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HomeNEWSKeith Blair, a true one-off

Keith Blair, a true one-off

Keith Blair 73, who was universally respected within the trade, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on 9 April while on a biking trip to Scotland. BDN has received the following tributes:

At well over six feet tall Keith obviously stood out from his contemporaries. Anyone meeting him for the first time could not fail to be impressed by his straightforward approach and warm personality, together with an extensive knowledge not just of the brand he represented but about global issues in general, for he cared passionately about world problems. 

After attending Cambridge and Barcelona universities he put his language degrees to positive use, undertaking 30-months’ work with a relief organisation in Brazil and other South American countries. Typically, he spent many evenings in the favelas (slums) teaching English, totally oblivious to the dangers.

He returned to UK in 1968, joining BSA as a graduate apprentice on export sales, moving two years later to Norton Villiers in a managerial role, relocating shortly to its Paris office, where he was responsible for Norton sales in France, Spain and Italy. Keith remained with NVT throughout the period of “industrial troubles” and, by1978, as a result of his technical expertise, was involved with sourcing parts for Norton’s new rotary motorcycle. Simultaneously he was also sales manager for Easy Rider mopeds and the group’s other Italian-powered machines. 

In 1983 Keith went self-employed, acting as official import agent for several Italian manufacturers who were under-represented on the British market.  Under Keith’s diligent stewardship the trade became familiar with such brands as Ariete, Gandini and Surflex. He later assumed UK distributorship for the Held brand of gloves from Germany.

Working happily from home, Keith enjoyed a full life beyond commerce.  Having supported the Soil Association for 40 years, he grew his own fruit and veg, raised animals – preferring sheep to lawnmowers – and was constantly interacting with neighbours in his rural community in the hills above Uttoxeter. Widely revered by all his former colleagues, Keith’s integrity was part of everything he did.

Mike Jackson

 

I first met Keith when he was representing Italian companies many years ago, which led to a lasting friendship. I always found Keith cheerful, enthusiastic with a deep interest and knowledge of motorcycle engineering. His extensive travels and stories resulted in excellent conversation. Being so tall he was easily spotted at trade shows. He was head and shoulders above the crowd, a true gentleman who will be sadly missed.

Frank Edwards

Technical Director

DP Brakes and Clutches

 

Keith was a Modern Languages graduate from Trinity Hall, a young man who bought a Lambretta scooter and rode off around Europe to practise a variety of languages and discover a much bigger world in which to use his skills and charm. It also gave him a love of powered two wheels that got him a job with the old BSA company, where he rose to manage its Paris office before the demise of what had once been the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world saw him move to Norton.

When that company in turn went into decline, he decided to use the contacts he had made in his European travels to set up as an agent, his fine command of languages a huge bonus when it came to sorting out communication problems or explaining emerging markets. I can still recall the way he sat with the production manager at Gandini Pistons in Italy, explaining in detail just what a UK Jaguar specialist needed, all in the Italian he spoke like a native.

In the Mentasti brothers’ factory near Milan he joked with the shop-floor staff like one of the family, always with a smile and always remembering the names of the operatives who did the machining, the packing and the driving.

When he attended the Milan show every year, plus the German offerings in Cologne and Munich, he rode there on one of his BMWs. At the Held Leathers factory in Bavaria he knew all the family and explained the quality of their product with the enthusiasm of a man who knew the value of the work and the comfort in long-term use. When one of his Italian contacts wanted a classic BSA 500cc B33, Keith found him one and delivered it in restored condition in his own Renault Espace.

Keith was a fascinating man who exuded charm and gracious manners and had a unique combination of riding experience, engineering knowledge and the language of the companies he represented.

Jim Reynolds

 

Family Kerr has lost a close friend with the sad passing of industry giant Keith Blair.

Keith was a giant of a man, not just in stature, but as someone who had the industry at heart.

We met while I was retailing at MSC in the early eighties. Keith was a manufacturers’ agent and he was on to us like the proverbial, as he represented many top Italian scooter parts manufacturers.

He introduced me to many top companies, many I still deal with to this day. He helped us to establish our business with the Italians and that was due to the make-up of this lovely man.

The Italians loved him. He knew all the languages, and spoke them fluently. Overall he was a great advert for the British bike industry. Keith’s glass was never half empty, always half full.

He was always positive about the industry.

Keith wasn’t a ton-up kid. If it was a 50 zone, he rode at 50. He loved his biking, and the team that he was with, loved Keith.

He’ll always be part of our lives in the Kerr household.

Rest in peace Big Man.

Norrie Kerr and family

 

Keith and I go back a long way, and I owe him a lot. He put me forward for the job of area sales executive (rep) for the eastern half of the UK, and somehow I managed to convince Hugh Palin and Bob Manns that I was the right man for the job.

I first remember Keith when his dulcet tones boomed across some meeting at Small Heath, where he was a post graduate. I thought, who is this lanky bloke with a posh accent? Posh accents were rare down Armoury Road at The BSA!

Keith, with his command of languages, was a natural for the export sales department, and I’m sure he had many adventures in the brief years he was at Small Heath. Recently Keith and I had a drink together and compared our BSA experiences. Whatever the faults of BSA, we agreed that we had been privileged to have worked there. Now he’s gone, and with him any chance to further explore his BSA days.

Keith had wisely moved on to Norton Villiers by the time of the great BSA crash in summer 1971. One of our adventures was in January 1972 when Keith, Tim Stevens and I entered our Commandos in the Exeter Trial and we all finished the event with awards.

As you would expect, as Norton Villiers’ European sales executive Keith was very successful and greatly respected. I left Norton Villiers in spring 1974 but Keith stayed on right through the Norton Triumph debacle. Shortly after that Keith went self-employed, ably assisted by Judy. As I understand it from Keith, he used the contacts that he had made during his long career to become an agent for a number of top-quality Italian manufacturers.

I really valued Keith’s objective and humane opinions on issues when it is all too easy for emotion to cloud rational judgment.

Keith, you leave a void at the heart of your family, but more than that, you are going to be missed by all those whose lives you stimulated and brightened!

Tom Waterer

 

 

 

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